minewar.org documenting the 1930's Illinois Mine War

“We will proceed…to wage a militant struggle for our rights”

PMA Constitution Detail

Wayne Hinton, the administrator of the local history web site Wayne’s World of History and Genealogy just posted the complete text of the Constitution of District No. 1, Progressive Miners of America (PMA).

Contrasting it to the constitution adopted in 1890 by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), there are notable similarities. Both unions demanded to end the use of private guards and to bar hiring discrimination, the UMWA constitution requiring: “No…member in good standing shall be debarred or hindered from obtaining work on account of race, creed or nationality,” which is pretty remarkable for the late 19th century (a problem that still plagues us in the early 21st.)

The UMWA constitution also demands fair pay (in dollars, not scrip) and a safe work environment, vital issues for all workers then and now.  But the tone and language of the UMWA constitution adopted 42 years prior to the founding of the PMA is clearly more conciliatory.  The union pledged: “To use all honorable means to maintain peace between ourselves and employers; adjusting all differences, as far as possible, by arbitration or conciliation, that strikes may become unnecessary.”  The goal was peace, and while strikes are mentioned the word “militance’ is not.

The PMA constitution expands on the demands of the UMWA version in important ways.  In its prohibition of hiring discrimination “political affiliations” are added to the mix, perhaps mindful of the AFL’s post WWI red-bating and maybe also anticipating conservative labor’s anti-red purges just around the corner. The PMA constitution also went beyond the UMWA’s demand for a 8 hour work day “to demand the 6 hour day and 5 day week, by legislation, joint agreement and strikes.”   The six hour day was a popular issue in the early 1930’s, many viewing it as a way to address the unemployment epidemic of the Great Depression.  “Share-the-work” plans were a way of spreading jobs around a community, ensuring more families had access to at least a subsistence living but the PMA’s goal was more utopian. They wanted a 6-hour day with no pay reduction.

The PMA constitution also required the union expand its horizon beyond the coal industry and its own membership: “…we will strive to educate our members and the workers of other industries to recognize the need of independent working class political action, as an additional weapon in this struggle.”  Education is a recurring theme and those demands included a call for the education of its members, women and children and for the formation of a Women’s Auxiliary.  Their goal wasn’t just to build a union.  They wanted to build a movement.

No doubt due to the turbulent events which necessitated the formation of the Progressive Miners, its constitution pays special attention to union democracy and accountability.  Union elections were to be conducted with great emphasis applied to transparency.  Term limits were also imposed and salaries for officers were established.  I think its also notable that officers were not eligible to collect a salary “when the majority of their membership are on strike, lock out or suspension.”

Shattered Dreams?

The constitution was authored by a committee of eight men in October, 1932.  Unfortunately PMA leaders failed to live up to the aspirations and values detailed in the union’s founding document. Ironically, even given the mandate for political tolerance and for union militance, three of the authors of the PMA constitution were later driven out of the union. Dave Reed, John Battuello, and Gerry Allard, all militant leftists, were expelled from the Progressive Miners by 1939.

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